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Valverde has high hopes for 2010

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland says you can tell a lot from a pitcher's face.

He said his new closer Jose Valverde is always smiling whatever the situation. Valverde disagrees. In the clubhouse he is sunny and upbeat, but on the mound there are no smiles.

"That's when I put my gorilla face on," Valverde said after reporting for his first practice with the Tigers on Saturday. "I am happy and like to have fun, but when I get to the mound I know I am only going for one inning. That's when the gorilla face goes on. If I were a batter, I wouldn't be afraid, but I wouldn't be comfortable either."

Valverde is expected to take over the closer's role from Fernando Rodney, who saved 37 games for the Tigers in 2009.

Rodney left the Tigers for the Los Angeles Angels and the Tigers acquired Valverde, who saved 25 games in 52 appearances for the Houston Astros last season.

Valverde was selected to the National League All-Star team in 2007 while with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but his number of saves dropped from 47 in 2007 to 44 in 2008 to 25 last season.

Valverde said he has no doubt that this is his comeback season.

"I'm ready," Valverde said. "I have that feeling and I am here to have fun and do my job. I have the adrenaline flowing and that won't change. I can't wait to get this season going because this is a good team and has a chance to do some great things."

Leyland likes Valverde's look so far.

"I can tell a lot by a player's face," Leyland said. "(Valverde) has a good look to him. I like his face. He's animated and you can tell things about a player's face. He makes batters respect him."

Valverde is walking into a tight spot with the Tigers. Detroit blew 24 save opportunities, second in the American League last season, and setup man Brandon Lyon left Detroit along with Rodney via free agency. Valverde signed a two-year, $14 million deal with the Tigers in January even though he missed much of 2009 with a calf injury.

Valverde was assigned uniform number 46 instead of the No. 47 he requested. Why? That happened to belong to longtime Tigers ace Jack Morris who won 198 games with the Tigers during his career. So Valverde asked for No. 74, a reversal of Morris' No. 47.

He didn't get No. 74 yet, but he's hoping to change that before the end of spring training. The number isn't of any special importance except that he said he plans to record 74 saves this season. That would easily eclipse the record of 62 set by Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.

"That's my number and I want that many saves," Valverde said. "That's more than 47."